Dr. Jack Kevorkian, labeled by his opponents as “Dr. Death,” has died. He passed away on June 3 in Royal Oak, Michigan. What earned him such a grim nickname? He helped aid 130 ailing patients in ending their own lives, beginning in 1990 and continuing until 1999 when he was imprisoned for second-degree murder.
As someone who grew up in Michigan while Kevorkian practiced here, I was exposed to a great deal of press concerning his practice, his methods and his reasons. Assisted suicide has always left me uneasy, with no sure footing on where I stood on the issue. Even now, as an adult, I am no more sure than when I first heard his name as a boy.
As a society, we are terribly afraid of death. It is the ultimate opponent, one who always wins, but also one who must be fought against with every last bit of energy. “Accepting death” is such a rarity that we are amazed by those who have the emotional clarity to deal maturely with their coming end. Our culture heritage teaches us that we should desire eternal life. You see this in both religion and myths like the fountain of youth.
We are not culturally prepared to understand would actively seek their own death. If the desire for eternal life is natural, then suicide must be unnatural and something that is fixable. There is no age is an acceptable point to say “I’ve had enough.”
Kevorkian challenged this point of view, arguing that adults are capable of saying “enough is enough” and choosing their end. This position I do endorse: all adults have their own agency, no matter their age or their health. We should not enforce onto others our own views on what is an acceptable length of life or what is an acceptable quality of life. Each person has to decide what the extent they are winning to accept.
This is not to say assisted suicide is something that can be allowed without any oversight. There are many valid concerns with someone’s ability to consent to the procedure. We need to make sure that this is a decision that is made without outside pressure. Determining this is hard, especially after the fact.
Simply banning assisted suicide doesn’t solve the problem; it simply hides the symptoms. Our society would still be full of those suffering from illness and age. I would endorse allowing the practice, but instituting regulation to make it safe, painless and pressure free. We must serve those who are suffering around us, to make their lives and their deaths as comfortable as possible, by any and all means possible, without taking away their agency to determine their own destiny.
-That is all.